A Leamington, Ont., church is renting out space in its basement to local Muslims for use as a mosque.
Since this spring, Muslim worship has been held in the basement of St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church, diocese of Huron, says the church’s rector, the Rev. Andrew Wilson.
The arrangement serves the church because it provides income to fund its ministry, he says; but it also an important part of the church’s outreach to Leamington’s growing refugee population.
“To one degree, it’s as basic as a rental, but it is creating wonderful community for them—they feel safe, they feel welcome,” he says.
Najam Jutt, who leads prayers for the group, says the church basement is a big improvement over the rented office space they were using before. It’s roomier, and, more importantly, it’s a powerful symbol of religious tolerance, he says.
“It’s beautiful—it’s an example for all communities in Canada and the world to look at, especially with various tensions in the world,” he says. “We don’t need those tensions—we need to come together.”
It originated ultimately from the church’s work sponsoring and assisting refugees in the area. Last September, the church invited some Syrian refugees to attend its annual picnic, including a tour of the church. As Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of dawn-to-dusk fasting, approached this spring, a member of the group approached the church about renting space. Wilson says everyone he contacted about the idea, from the church wardens to the diocese’s executive archdeacon, supported it enthusiastically, and the church went ahead with it.
The Muslim group worships in the space Friday afternoons for about an hour, with many of its members visiting it for individual prayers at other times. On Saturday mornings, they use it for children’s religious education. During Ramadan, the church hall hosted traditional Muslim post-sunset meals.
Because the Anglicans and Muslims using the building tend to worship at completely different times, they rarely encounter one another, Wilson says. However, he has joined the Muslims in prayer. The group kept inviting him to visit during its services, he said, and once when he dropped by, he ended up joining them.
“They all pulled together during a particular prayer, and one of the people just kind of waved to me while I was there and I went on in,” he says. “They all formed a little row. So I was just kind of pulled into that and just kind of came in, and we kneeled and we prayed.
“It was very moving for them for me to just pray with them. A couple of guys looked like they were ready to cry.”
To have a Christian priest pray with them, Jutt says, “is not something that happens every day, so it’s kind of different. It’s welcoming.”
The prayer was in Arabic, but the sermon was in English, Wilson says.
“It was a lot of stuff that I would have said. He talked about blessings and being blessed to live in Canada…‘Other parts of the world suffer with war and famine and everything, so it’s our time to give back. We need to help those who need help.’ ”
The church, which organizes a weekly community meal with two other churches—each taking turns providing the meal—is also planning on inviting the Muslim group to make supper.
Over the past decade, about 50 Syrian families have come to settle in the Leamington area, joining a number of Muslim families who already lived there, Wilson says.